The fact that Europeans need their joint armed forces can be heard more and more often in the European Union lately. The number of such statements has increased noticeably, especially against the backdrop of the US and NATO’s failure in Afghanistan.
“America is leaving Afghanistan not only defeated but humiliated,” writes the French Le Figaro. The fall of Kabul was a shake-up for the world that has gathered around America, and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the way it occurred, deprives the United States of confidence and buries the idea of security guarantees from the United States, the paper stresses. At the same time, the US is now in a weak position, with no unity within the country, so Le Figaro suggests Europe create a new alliance that would help defend the continent’s security and borders but would not rely on the States.
Despite all the statements by US President Joe Biden, NATO remains a divided alliance at the moment, writes The Wall Street Journal. The point is, the bloc members still fail to reach a consensus on such issues as common threats and Europe’s rearmament. And if the alliance never manages to agree on common geostrategic goals, it will remain an empty shell. While Washington sees China as a military and economic problem for itself, injecting Sinophobia into NATO policy, Europe sees it as an economic opportunity, perceiving the Celestial Empire as a strategic challenge. The Asian market is considered too important for Europe to prosper, not wanting to provoke Beijing’s discontent. While Poland, Romania and the Baltic states see Russia as a threat and deliberately seek to escalate its relations. The very cautious Western Europe is openly afraid to risk its economic growth, putting it above the well-being of its neighbors, over whom the USSR once dominated. As for Berlin, it intends to work with Russia and not oppose it with an integrated approach of political and economic steps, the newspaper emphasizes. For France, its security priorities focus on the south, towards the Mediterranean and Africa, rather than the east. These disparate interests across Europe prevent a NATO-wide consensus on threats.
Therefore, it is no surprise that following the withdrawal from Afghanistan, EU foreign and defense ministers began discussing in Brdo, Slovenia, on September 2, how best to ensure their European security in the future without continued reliance on the United States. Afghanistan showed that Europe was too dependent on the US, German television channel Das Erste noted, so proposals for common European rapid reaction units under a joint command are now being discussed. And for Europe to become more independent from the USA, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is demanding the creation of similar troops of its own. The dates of the visit have not yet been determined. We are talking about the number of military personnel ranging from 5 thousand to 50 thousand, but in any case, it is under overall command. At the same time, it’s worth recalling that the EU already has so-called battle groups that have been formed for such purposes. They have been on the alert since 2007. However, they have never been used until now. Partly because such a decision can only be taken unanimously, and of course, because they do not have the same capabilities as, for example, the US Army.
It should also be noted that the idea of European joint armed forces appeared in the Old World more than 70 years ago – since the creation of the Western European Union in 1948, a union that dealt with the organization of European collective defense. However, this idea was not recognized because the United States, which never wanted to unite Europe, much less militarily, imposed a North Atlantic alliance that allowed it to dominate the continent. And Britain has always been against the emergence of a European army, which, in London’s view, would have a negative impact on the US role in European affairs.
Discussions on a common European security and defense policy were resumed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as European capitals felt that with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the danger of a military confrontation on the continent had disappeared. On the other hand, the European Union had already strengthened itself politically and economically. Therefore, its own military force could take responsibility for the state of affairs in the world together with America. Additionally, Brexit has pushed European politicians to this idea, as it has not become one of the main obstacles for European countries on their way to expand and deepen cooperation in the military sphere.
If we talk about the present day, it is impossible not to mention that Germany initiated the actualization of this process, having experienced the US pressure first. Therefore, it is not surprising that back at the forum in Davos, Angela Merkel severely criticized US actions against Europe and called on the European Union to take its destiny into its own hands. At the same time, she stressed the importance of forming a European defense fund, as Europe has made a habit of “relying on the United States.”
Brussels’ long-standing plans for a European army took shape in 2017. In December 2017, EU leaders officially launched the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) program for security and defense. Meanwhile, many experts have no doubt that Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker are the real authors of the European army project and the European defense pact. It is also worth remembering in this regard that Juncker is a long-time proponent of the idea of a “United States of Europe”. And such a structure should, of course, be able to ensure its own security entirely independently. With the advent of PESCO, a completely different picture emerged. According to Western experts: EU spending on military expenditures can develop its own armed forces and produce its own weapons.
As for the idea of creating a pan-European rapid response corps, it is not new either. Back in the spring, 14 nations, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, based on a classified threat report, proposed creating a joint military unit to be used in “scenarios requiring immediate intervention.” According to the then announced plans of politicians, in the future, in addition to the rapid reaction force, an air force division and a group of combat support troops were to become part of the pan-European army. However, due to existing disagreements within the EU, the implementation of this strategy had already been suspended at the stage of discussions.
In general, Europe’s desire to secure itself from the US has long run up against active opposition from Washington. For example, in 2009-2010, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands attempted to withdraw American nuclear weapons from their territories. But Washington, with the help of Poland and the Baltic states, managed to adopt a new strategic concept of the alliance at the NATO summit in Lisbon, which emphasizes the need to locate US nuclear weapons on the European continent.
That is why one can be sure that as soon as the US feels, even for a moment, that there is a threat to its positions in the Old World from the unification of Europe militarily, it will do everything to prevent it. Therefore, the idea of some European countries to save themselves from the US by creating their own army seems challenging to implement.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.